Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

Originally posted February 21, 2008

Paul Bowles has spun a dramatic and unforgiving landscape in great detail. The story takes place in post-WWII North Africa predominantly in the Sahara. The book is very descriptive, and the characters are introduced and grow throughout the story, although I never feel particularly drawn to them. Three people, our protagonist Port Moresby with his wife Kit and his friend Tunner, adventuring together avoiding tourist areas and seeking the real Sahara. Although the Moresbys have traveled together in the past, the third party does make a difference in attitudes and understanding. The book is written in 3 distinct parts.

The clash of cultures is not helped when an older woman with her adult son crash the scene with little conception of who they are walking all over. And are they really who they seem? They follow very closely the same paths as Port, Kit and Tunner. It is not long before our travellers are split up in various ways and various combinations. Everything that appears to be so tranquil seems to be wrapped around something dark and dangerous. Depression, illness and loss become almost constant companions. Kit’s solo journey through the desert was interesting and the unchanging views were so well described I could actually see them in my mind. The caravan she joins feels real. As Kit becomes more and more withdrawn from reality one begins to wonder if she will ever return to herself.

In the third part, I felt disillusioned with the everyone! I can understand in a world of poor with an almost complete lack of ability to communicate because of the language barrier, but what I can’t fathom is why those who spoke English or French could not see what was happening with Kit. I thought the ending was too abrupt and unfinished. But others may not feel that way, it is my own thought. It just left me feeling a sense of loss. I did like the book for its descriptive nature, but I can’t say that it really grabbed me.

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